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The Last Word: The When-to-Use-a-Hyphen Dilemma

In English, hyphens serve a number of functions: they can be a way-station in the creation of a new compound word, they can join a string of adjectives that all modify a single noun, and they can show that a syllable at the end of a line is part of a word that finishes on the next line. The first two of these functions are the most troublesome. When should the compound parts of a word like email be hyphenated? Do we really need to put hyphens in a phrase like waiver of subrogation provision? Let’s look at the so-called rules and our frequent deviations from them.

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